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De Blasio Points to Cuomo’s NYCHA Order as ‘Potentially Dangerous’ to City Budget

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Gov. Cuomo with top NYC officials and others (photo: Governor's office)

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order earlier this month to impose an external monitor on the crisis-plagued New York City Housing Authority has turned into a potential budget boondoggle for the city, with Mayor Bill de Blasio warning on Thursday of the “unforeseen consequences” the order could have on the city’s fiscal future.

The governor’s order came after months of escalating problems at NYCHA developments that highlighted the decades-long financial struggles and mismanagement at the city-run agency. NYCHA was also sued by a group of tenants and advocates citing the harsh living conditions in NYCHA apartments, including issues with mold, lead paint, and dramatic failures in heat and hot water systems this past winter during extreme cold spells. That led Cuomo to declare in his order that the conditions at NYCHA “constitute a public nuisance affecting the security of life and health in the city of New York” and that the city could not adequately respond to an imminent disaster.

The emergency declaration ordered the selection of an “Independent Emergency Manager” to oversee repairs to mitigate harmful conditions and to create a plan to utilize $550 million in state funding pegged for NYCHA. The order also eased procurement rules to speed up the pace of repair and maintenance work.

But the order also notes that any repairs ordered by the emergency manager must be paid by the city, as per the state Public Health Law, which Mayor de Blasio took issue with on Thursday during his Executive Budget presentation as he spoke of other “unfunded mandates,” cuts, and cost-shifts that the city was saddled with under the latest state budget.

“The more we and other analysts have looked at that executive order, the more we see a very challenging and potentially dangerous element of it in terms of our budget,” de Blasio said at City Hall. He said that “open-ended language” in the order could mean millions in cost for the city, which would not be approved through the city’s budget process, and therefore would not allow the City Council, the mayor, or comptroller any control over spending.

“We are concerned that that creates a very problematic precedent and in addition could have many unforeseen consequences for next year’s budget,” he added.

De Blasio has repeatedly touted investments he has made in NYCHA since taking office, including $1.6 billion in operating funds and $2.1 billion in capital money. Under his NextGeneration NYCHA plan to get the struggling agency back on its feet, NYCHA has managed to turn around its operating finances, no longer running an annual deficit, though it still faces many billions in capital repair and construction needs.

On Thursday, de Blasio announced an added $20 million investment over the next two fiscal years to further reduce the backlog of repairs at NYCHA by 50,000 cases. But the massive capital need remains, estimated at $25 billion, and growing. The City Council recently called on the mayor to add another $2.45 billion in NYCHA capital funding to the budget (the city has separate operating and capital spending plans). Though no additional capital funding was added in the executive budget, the city has already allocated $423 million in capital for fiscal year 2019, according to Freddi Goldstein, a mayoral spokesperson.

But for all the potential burden that de Blasio spoke of, the actual effect of Cuomo’s order is unclear and the mayor is not entirely helpless in the process. Budget watchdogs also currently have no idea how much money it could cost the city. “That’s a total unknown at this point,” said Doug Turetsky, communications director for the Independent Budget Office, a city-funded monitor.

Sean Campion, senior research associate at Citizens Budget Commission, an independent nonprofit, said the governor’s order is a “good first step” to chip away at the housing authority’s massive needs, but he acknowledged that the order is “somewhat vague” about the city’s responsibilities. “It definitely sets a new precedent. The impact is yet to be determined. There’s obviously some benefits to having this monitor come in and develop a plan for spending the state money and whatever city money the city wants to chip in as well,” he said.

He also noted that, as per the order, the emergency manager will have to be chosen “unanimously” by the mayor, the City Council speaker, and the president of the NYCHA Citywide Council of Presidents. If they fail to do so within the mandated time frame, the decision falls to Comptroller Scott Stringer. “So whoever’s going to be appointed to this position is in some ways going to be appointed by city elected officials, none of whom really have an incentive to essentially give the monitor a blank check for funding all of NYCHA’s repair needs. All that’s sort of tempered the risk,” Campion said.

Several elected officials stood with Cuomo when he signed the order -- including Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James, Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and City Council Member Ritchie Torres, former chair of the Council’s public housing committee -- and heaped praise on the governor for taking action, though most had not read the language contained in the order. The officials posed with Cuomo for celebratory photos, behind a banner reading “Standing with NY Tenants.”

After the New York Times first pointed out the potential costs the city would have to bear, some of the same officials demurred.

“We have concerns about some of the ramifications of the order, but we are still reviewing it and discussing our options and potential costs,” said Speaker Johnson, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “NYCHA is in crisis and the situation required swift action. We will work with the governor, the mayor and the tenants to find solutions to the worst problems affecting the residents. We are all in agreement that they have suffered for too long.”

Stringer, the city’s chief financial officer, declined to comment through a spokesperson. Public Advocate Letitia James’ office did not provide a comment for this article. She told the Times that the order was an unfunded mandate and that the state should consider taking on the costs of implementing it rather than the city.  

Among the group of city officials, the order’s fiercest defender is Torres, who has in recent weeks positioned himself in close proximity to Cuomo in pushing for NYCHA’s interests and castigating the mayor’s perceived failures. “I think the mayor would be wise to view the executive order as an opportunity to improve public housing rather than a challenge,” he said in a phone interview Friday. “[T]he notion that more funding for public housing is a problem is as insulting as it is idiotic.”

Torres echoed Campion’s point that the city, not the state, will pick the emergency manager, and said it was “disingenuous” for the mayor to claim he has no role. “So I presume he would select someone who would work with the city to develop a financially feasible plan. Even if the mayor has political objections to the executive order, leadership often means making the best of a bad situation, but there’s no evidence that the administration’s even attempting to do so. It’s simply whining, rather than problem-solving,” he said.

He also brushed aside concerns that the city will have to bear more costs, insisting that activists have long pushed for $1 billion annually in funding for NYCHA and that no officials or activists have suggested using the emergency manager to fund NYCHA’s full $25 billion need. “But can the city play a greater role in addressing the most critical infrastructure needs of public housing? I would submit to you that the answer’s ‘yes’ and the executive order creates an opportunity to do so,” Torres said. “The administration has often made piecemeal investments in public housing in response to crises. The executive order forces the city to take a more systematic, a more planned approach to addressing the longer term critical infrastructure needs of public housing.”

De Blasio’s latest expense budget plan, presented Thursday, is for $89 billion for next fiscal year, while the updated five-year capital commitment plan is for $82 billion. The mayor has regularly reminded audiences, though, that NYCHA is its own authority, not a mayoral or city agency, and has its own budget plans, which the city has continued to contribute to under his watch.

De Blasio hopes to quell some of the overarching concerns about Cuomo’s executive order and optimistically said Thursday that he has had conversations with the governor to modify it.

“Even though the Governor and I have disagreements we still talk regularly. I talked to him earlier in the week,” he explained to reporters. “We still attempt to reason together...I don’t think he necessarily intended a massive unfunded mandate on New York City. I think he – I certainly don’t think he intended to interfere with day-to-day operations of NYCHA. We need to have that conversation and work it through...because the last thing you’d want is to have the state issue an executive order that backfires for the people it’s supposed to serve.”

Rich Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesperson, tweeted Friday that the executive order would be adjusted once an ongoing federal investigation into NYCHA’s handling of lead paint concludes and “determines de Blasio’s liability” for what he called a debacle. Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for additional comment or offer further clarity.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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As Cuomo Chooses Democratic Unity, Party Activist Base Chooses Nixon

Governor Andrew Cuomo

Gov. Cuomo at NAN (photo: Don Pollard/Governor's Office)

“Unity” is the trending word in New York politics, ever since Gov. Andrew Cuomo stepped into the back room of a Manhattan steakhouse and put together a deal to end the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of Democratic senators who collaborated with Republicans to control the state Senate. As a result of that “unity” deal, Democrats in Albany are prepared for the possibility of a truly united front in the upper chamber of the Legislature, with the ability to pass long-gestating progressive legislation blocked by Republican/IDC control.

But just in time for Cuomo to celebrate his Democratic leadership and progressive bona fides, a rift has blown wide open between the governor and activist groups that have been at the forefront of some of Cuomo's most noteworthy legislative victories. Tired of what they call Cuomo’s broken promises and centrist governing style, the left-wing groups walked away. Given a new opportunity to back a challenger to the governor, the Working Families Party officially endorsed Cynthia Nixon one day after Cuomo allegedly asked labor unions to pull their financial support of the community groups who endorsed his challenger. And with that rift has come increased scrutiny of who is actually responsible for progressive victories in the state — and a clear indication the New York left is ready to pursue defeating Cuomo at almost any cost.

Just as he did in 2014 when he was seeking a second term, Cuomo has banked on a series of promises made to progressive organizations in order to get their approval over a left-wing challenger. Unlike that year though, left-wing organizations -- such as Citizen Action NY, Make The Road New York, and the Working Families Party they are affiliates of -- have chosen to throw their heft and organizing ability behind Cuomo’s main opponent, unwilling to trust him again and challenging a governor whose progressivism they feel has come from political expediency, not deep conviction.

“He’s scared, because he knows an unknown law professor ran away with one-third of the vote in 2014,” Matthew Miles Goodrich, an organizer with the environmental advocacy group Sunrise Movement, which endorsed Nixon last Friday, told Gotham Gazette. “Part of it is survival instincts from him. New York has millions of Democratic voters who want to see institutional change, and he’s positioned himself as a centrist for so long he has to swing left now.”

When carrots like ending the IDC didn’t work as a way to keep the Working Families Party and other community organizations from embracing Nixon, Cuomo’s use of the stick, by allegedly asking unions to choose him over the WFP and to pull their funding from groups like Make The Road and New York Communities For Change, appears to have emboldened his critics.

Rather than bring those groups in line, it led them to go on the offensive against a governor they call a bully and hold a rally last Thursday as a show of strength. While some speakers talked about confrontation with Cuomo, expressed frustration with his strongarm tactics, and, in the case of The Black Institute’s Bertha Lewis, compared the governor’s defunding threats to progressive arch villain Rudy Giuliani’s efforts, City Council Member Brad Lander laid out the fight as one between competing philosophies of where policy change really comes from.

“When people get elected to public office, they can sometimes come to think change happens because elected officials make it happen. They can sometimes come to think that community groups and the people are the ones who are there to serve and support the elected officials,” Lander told the crowd, giving credit for the state’s $15 minimum wage program and raise the age legislation to organizing efforts by the groups in attendance.

In Lander’s point is the essence of a refrain being used against Cuomo by those to his left: that he has mostly adopted progressive stances when there was enough grassroots pressure and a clear political payoff. And, the resulting achievements are often watered down, critics say, the products of triangulation including Republicans the governor has at best tolerated and at worst empowered. For many, Cuomo’s tenure has been marked by some significant successes, but also an extensive list of essential policy priorities left on the chopping block due to a chief executive who “governs like a Republican,” as Nixon has said. It is only political pressure that moves Cuomo to adopt progressive stances he is otherwise cold to, those on his left say.

In the one month since Nixon entered the race, Cuomo has put an end to the IDC, said “the facts have changed” about legal recreational marijuana, announced plans to restore voting rights to felons on parole in New York, killed an offshore natural gas pipeline that had been in the works, and issued an executive order to prevent federal immigration official from state buildings. And yet Cuomo hasn’t once acknowledged increased left-wing pressure is responsible for these abrupt turns, despite years of tolerating the IDC, calling marijuana a gateway drug just a year ago, and his top aide, Melissa DeRosa, dismissing activist pressure for environmental laws as “a counterproductive fraud.

The disconnect between how Cuomo uses power and who can compel him to use it is at the heart of the fight, according to Goodrich, who said the governor’s recent actions have shown what he could have been doing in office all along.

“He feels he deserves the support of the grassroots since he’s made significant [things] happen, like the fracking ban, which he should be credited for,” Goodrich said. “It’s nowhere near enough, though, and he doesn’t get that because it runs up against his interests. His ideology is warped by pretty centrist and right megadonors. While he’s trying to figure out what’ll appease the grassroots, he thinks he deserves our support. Just because he’s thrown us a bone a couple times though doesn’t mean he automatically gets it.”

With community groups still spurning Cuomo despite his attempt to strongarm Democratic unity and win WFP support, the New York political world entered something of a parallel universe in which the governor and his allies act like Cuomo has always been a champion of party unity and that the primary fight is about anything but progressive policy failures due to years of a sanctioned Democratic split.

DeRosa, the secretary to the governor, tweeted that left-wing activists aren’t really Democrats (a possibly reference to the WFP as its own political party) and don’t “support unity,” given the WFP promise to continue backing primary challengers to IDC members after years of the governor inviting the IDC’s leader, Senator Jeff Klein, into budget negotiations. Klein, who led the IDC for all seven years of its existence, embraced this new unity with the bizarre claim that the Working Families Party was “for disunity.”

“They're an enemy of reform,” he continued. “And, quite frankly, they're an enemy of a strong [Senate] Democratic majority.” Cuomo campaign adviser Sarah Paden went as far as suggesting that the Working Families Party could become “a new IDC dynamic.”

Cuomo isn’t in any way totally cut off from normal Democratic areas of strength, finding support at a rally celebrating a successful unionization effort by nurses at the Albany Medical Center, and using his appearance at Al Sharpton’s National Action Network convention to announce the plan to restore voting rights for parolees. He has significant labor union support, and cast his role in the WFP crackup as merely standing in solidarity with the unions who chose to leave the party.

But community organizations have used Cuomo’s rhetoric to accuse him of being a hypocrite and a fraud by what they say is a gap between his words and actions, and by pointing to the paper trail of a governor who has dismissed progressive policies only to adopt them when the moment appeared politically advantageous.

His claim that he’s just a normal “middle-class guy” from Queens was blasted by Citizen Action New York, which said the governor’s idea of what a middle class person is “would explain why he’s consistently given tax cuts to the wealthiest households in New York–like his own–while neglecting the true middle and working class families of our state.” Similarly, Make The Road New York, an immigrants’ advocacy group allegedly threatened by Cuomo, took aim at his historically dubious, if symbolic, statement that he’s an “undocumented person.”

“[I]t’s unbelievable that the Governor would try to claim to have shared our experience,” Make The Road member Antonio Alarcon said in a statement responding to the governor’s claims. “It’s even worse coming from someone who has failed repeatedly to use his political capital for our community’s top priorities in Albany—including the New York Dream Act and passing driver’s licenses for all.”

Now, with a Democratic win in a Westchester state Senate special election that theoretically makes 32 registered Democrats in the chamber, Cuomo is fairly resigned to passing none of the remaining progressive wishlist items as Senator Simcha Felder chooses to continue to sit with Senate Republicans, though Cuomo is making public entreaties to Felder to switch conferences now and at least help ensure Senate votes on a series of policies before the legislative session ends in June. This, after Cuomo declined to call the special elections until they would occur after a state budget was passed, leaving Democratic districts underrepresented and no chance of a unified Democratic majority for budget negotiations.

Rather than make themselves a vessel through which Cuomo can position himself as a national progressive leader, community groups are backing candidates like Nixon, lieutenant governor candidate Jumaane Williams, and a slate of IDC challengers in September’s primary in order to help remake the party in their image. While the governor has said Democratic unity is essential to passing a slate of progressive goals, like the Dream Act and campaign finance reform, groups at the forefront of advocacy on those issues are abandoning him, and he is threatening their very existence.

“I think for careful observers, there’s a big progressive movement formed by activists that’s coming, and the Working Families Party is going to electoralize that at the polls,” WFP state director Bill Lipton told Gotham Gazette at Thursday’s rally. “I think we’re going to be able to elect great progressives who are going to pass all the things that have been bottled up by state Senate Republicans, the IDC, and Andrew Cuomo over the last eight years.”

By David Colon for Gotham Gazette. Colon is a freelance journalist; on Twitter @DaveColon.

Special Election Results for 11 State Legislative Seats

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Shelley Mayer (photo: @Shelley4Senate)

The Democratic conference in the New York State Senate will soon be one seat shy of a majority. After special election wins Tuesday night to fill two vacant Senate seats, both previously held by Democrats, the party will soon have 31 members in the 63-seat chamber. Shelley Mayer has won in Senate District 37, in Westchester, and Luis Sepulveda has won in Senate District 32, in the Bronx. Both are currently members of the Assembly, seats they will vacate to move to the Senate.

Democrats hold an overwhelming majority in the Assembly, and are in control of all the statewide elected seats (Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Comptroller, Attorney General, and two United States Senators). The state Senate is Republicans' only stronghold of statewide power at this time.

In part, the new Senate Democratic conference size is due to the recent reunification of the mainline Democratic conference and the Independent Democratic Conference, which had been eight breakaway members, led by State Senator Jeff Klein of the Bronx that formed a coalition with the Senate Republican conference. That Republican conference holds 32 seats, including Brooklyn Senator Simcha Felder, elected repeatedly as a Democrat and, in 2016, on the Democratic and Republican ballot lines, who said on Tuesday that no matter the results of the special elections he would remain in the GOP conference for the rest of this year's legislative session, which runs until mid-June.

The special election wins give Democrats a new chance to woo Felder, or at least to set the stage for winning additional seats this fall, when there will be elections for all 213 seats in the state Legislature -- 150 in the Assembly and 63 in the Senate -- including those that held special elections Tuesday. The special elections also included nine seats in the Assembly.

The following results occurred Tuesday night across the state - projected winners, with a note if the seat has changed party hands - results will be updated:

Senate District 32 - Bronx
Luis Sepulveda, Democrat

Senate District 37 - Westchester
Shelley Mayer, Democrat

Assembly District 5 - Suffolk
Doug Smith, Republican

Assembly District 10 - Suffolk
Steve Stern, Democrat
(seat previously held by Republicans)

Assembly District 17

Assembly District 39 - Queens
Aridia Espinal, Democrat

Assembly District 74 - Manhattan
Harvey Epstein, Democrat

Assembly District 80 - Bronx
Nathalia Fernandez, Democrat

Assembly District 102 - Delaware
Christopher Tague, Republican - not an official result

Assembly District 107 - Rensselaer
Jacob Ashby, Republican

Assembly District 142 - Erie
Erik Bohen (party TBD)

Several of the vacancies occurred because the prior officeholder had won election to a different office, including Ruben Diaz, Sr., who had vacated his Bronx Senate seat to become a City Council member, and George Latimer, who had vacated his Westchester Senate seat to become county executive.

Diaz Sr. and Latimer will both be replaced by sitting Assembly members who will have to vacate their seats in the lower house of the state Legislature. Diaz Sr. will be replaced by Sepulveda and Latimer will be replaced by Mayer. Intrigue over control of the Senate is unlikely to dissipate despite Felder's announcement, in part given is known openness to cutting deals and with the fall elections looming. 

"The Governor's position is clear: the Democrats must unify to take back the majority," said Dani Lever, a spokesperson for Gov. Cuomo, in reaction to Felder's announcement. "This conversation will continue in the morning.”

Even if Felder were to change conferences this year, there are questions about whether Democrats can alter control of the Senate given rules that have been adopted for the two-year session ending at the end of this year. If the Democratic conference has 32 members, it still may struggle to push bills to the floor for votes. There may also be struggles to garner full 32-member support for some of controversial pieces of legislation that are not necessarily supported by Felder or current members of the Democratic conference.

“The voters have spoken, and we again have 32 Democrats in the State Senate," said Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, in a statement Tuesday night. "I congratulate my friend and colleague, Senator-elect Shelley Mayer, on her victory and look forward to welcoming her to the Senate Chamber as soon as possible. Senator-Elect Luis Sepulveda also won a resounding victory tonight and I look forward to him continuing his public service as a State Senator. These electoral wins are part of the ‘blue wave’ sweeping our state and nation which will help even more Senate Democratic candidates win in the upcoming General Election. Now is the time for all Senators elected as Democrats to work together and achieve the functional Democratic Majority that New York voters elected this past November, and again tonight.”

The Senate Republicans had a different reaction, as outlined by spokesperson Scott Reif in a statement:

"The 37th district state Senate seat in Westchester County contains twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans, and has been held by the Democrats for decades. They were supposed to win this race. Despite going up against political history and voter enrollment, our candidate ran a strong race. There are a number of Democrat held seats that present better opportunities for us in November.

"The New York City politicians who think it will be easy to flip the State Senate and impose their radical agenda on the people of New York should take heed. Our Majority represents the checks and balances, and the real accountability that hardworking taxpayers need and deserve. Without us it’s one party rule, higher taxes, runaway spending and New Yorkers will be less safe.

"Governor Cuomo, Bill de Blasio and others will say and do anything to hold onto or accumulate more power, and their agenda is far out of step with the priorities and values of middle class families throughout this state. We are ready for this fight and fully expect to retain our Majority in November."

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Progressives Draft Convention Resolution to Allow Unaffiliated Voters in Democratic Primary

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(photo: Philip Kamrass/Governor's Office)

As the Democratic primary between Governor Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon continues to heat up, a group of progressive activists is pushing for the state party to change its rules and open up the primary to unaffiliated voters.

New York Progressive Action Network, a grassroots coalition affiliated with Our Revolution, which grew out of Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, is drafting a resolution that its members hope to introduce at the State Democratic Party’s nominating convention in May, the group’s co-chair, George Albro, told Gotham Gazette on Tuesday.

The resolution will call for a change in the party’s internal rules to allow registered voters without a party affiliation to cast ballots in the Democratic primary, which is currently a “closed” primary where voting is restricted to registered Democrats.

The potentially election-altering resolution will have to be signed by at least ten members of the party’s state committee and delivered 15 days prior to the convention in order to be included on the agenda, according to the party’s bylaws. It would need a two-thirds majority of delegates to pass. The group is guaranteed one signature -- Jay Bellanca, another co-chair of NYPAN from upstate, is a state committee member from the 113th Assembly District -- and Albro said the group was in talks with reform-minded lawmakers to support their resolution.

Albro said the group will “introduce a resolution to the effect of allowing unaffiliated voters, voters who are not in any party, what they call ‘blanks’,” to vote in the primary. As of April 1, there were 6.2 million registered Democrats in the state, 2.8 million Republicans, and about 2.6 million unaffiliated voters. Allowing those unaffiliated with a party to participate could drastically alter the outcome, but the chances of the resolution passing are unclear, and it may not stand up to legal scrutiny.

Top elected officials and legislators on both sides of the aisle have been hesitant to allow any but their own registered members to vote in their primary to avoid “party raiding,” where members of one party could potentially flood their opponents’ party primary with votes to either capture their ballot line or to dislodge the preferred candidate from the nomination ahead of a general election. That’s also the reason that New York’s deadline for changing one’s party affiliation falls 25 days prior to the previous general election, an oft-criticized length far longer than in many other states.

If a Republican or member of a smaller party, like Green, Libertarian or Conservative, wished to vote in this year’s Democratic primary in September, or a move in another such direction, they would have to have switched their party registration by October 13, 2017.

The proposed rule change in this case would alter that for the Democratic primary. “It would have no effect on any other party...it would not allow raiding of course...it would only allow pure unaffiliated voters who have no agenda but a desire to vote,” Albro said, decrying the sorry state of voter turnout in New York, which ranked 41 out of 50 states in the 2016 general election.

“The people who can vote won’t, and the people who want to vote, can’t,” he said.

There is precedent for the NYPAN proposal. The Independence Party in 2003 went to court and won the right to allow unaffiliated voters to vote in its primaries, though that has never been put to the test in a statewide election and the verdict left some unanswered questions about whether unaffiliateds could also vote on internal party business and election-related deadlines. Just last year, the Reform Party allowed unaffiliated voters to vote in its primary for mayor of New York City.

Neither Cuomo nor Nixon’s campaign provided comment for this article. State Democratic Party Executive Director Geoff Berman, however, was unsure if the party could make such a change.

“Under state law, and this applies to all political parties, not just to Democrats, in order to vote in a party’s primary, you have to affiliate yourself with that party in your voter registration,” Berman said in a phone interview.

He added, “My understanding after consulting with election law attorneys and others is that state law does not permit Democrats to make this change unilaterally.”

He wouldn’t speculate on whether the state committee would support the NYPAN resolution -- Berman himself will not have a vote -- and he insisted that any change could create voter confusion and invite court challenges. “I think the most sensible way to go about changing it is through state law so that the resulting rules apply equally to all political parties and don’t create a patchwork that’s confusing to voters,” he said.

Over the last several weeks, Berman has been at the receiving end of criticism over the role and independence, or alleged lack thereof, of the State Democratic Party in this year’s primary elections, especially that for governor. Left-leaning activists and groups like NYPAN have questioned whether the state party is playing favorites by supporting the incumbent. Berman was appointed by Cuomo, who is, by virtue of his position, the de facto leader of the party in New York.

At the same time, those same grassroots groups are pushing for changes to the deadlines for registering in a party and for switching party affiliation, which would allow greater participation in primaries but require alterations to state law. Many of the activists, who tend to lean towards supporting Nixon’s candidacy, have issued somewhat misleading statements, conflating state law with party rules, mistakenly placing blame on the party for the interminably long party affiliation-change deadline, and tying the lack of reform to Cuomo, an attack that appears to have validity.

Ultimately, though, Albro said it will be up to Cuomo to push for expanding access to the Democratic primary, and that the governor could not blame Republicans for holding up the change that NYPAN is proposing, as he often does when voting and electoral reforms fail in the state Legislature. “[T]he powers that be in the Democratic Party are sometimes not democratic,” Albro mused. “I would think that the governor controls the state committee. It’s up to him whether he wants this passed.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Is Cynthia Nixon Qualified to be Governor?

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Cynthia Nixon (photo: @CynthiaNixon)

In 2016, leading up to the presidential election, Democrats criticized Republican candidate Donald Trump’s lack of political and governmental experience while heralding Hillary Clinton’s long career in politics. This year, New York Democrats face a somewhat similar situation within the party given the primary challenge from actor and activist Cynthia Nixon to incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Since Nixon announced her candidacy in March, questions of qualifications and experience have been raised repeatedly. Is an actor, even a highly-regarded and award-winning one, with a history of political activism qualified to run the third-most populous state in the country with an annual operating budget of nearly $170 billion?

Nixon has never held any elected office or worked in government, though she has been an outspoken advocate on several issues, most frequently public education funding, and an unpaid spokesperson for the Alliance for Quality Education. Meanwhile, Cuomo has been involved in politics most of his adult life and worked in government on and off since joining the Clinton administration in 1993. His father was, of course, governor of New York, from 1983 through 1994, and Andrew Cuomo got his start in politics working to help get Mario Cuomo elected.

Many have quickly asked if New Yorkers, especially Democrats who largely despise Trump, have any appetite for a celebrity candidate for governor. Nixon and her surrogates have said that character and values matter more than government experience, that Cuomo only got into government because of his famous father, and that all of Cuomo’s experience hasn’t resulted in good policy for New Yorkers. Albany needs an outsider, they argue, and virtually all high-level elected Democrats have too much to risk by going after the powerful incumbent governor.

Cuomo and his camp point to his long political resume and record of achievements.

Ultimately it will be up to voters to decide whether Nixon is qualified to be governor, and whether they think she could do a better job than Cuomo.

“The Democratic reaction – revulsion if you will – to Donald Trump, one of the elements, not the only element, is this notion that Trump was entirely unprepared to be president, with no governing experience and that’s showing,” said Democratic political consultant Bruce Gyory. “It’s a consistent jab at the eye of Republicans. ‘How could you put forward somebody with no experience?’ Now the question will be, how will Democratic voters react to Nixon on that scale?”

Nixon’s campaign is courting more liberal Democrats who are dissatisfied with Cuomo’s sometimes more centrist policies. She was recently endorsed by the Working Families Party, an influential group of left-wing activists that came close to backing Zephyr Teachout’s primary challenge against Cuomo in 2014 before New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio stepped in and the group ultimately endorsed Cuomo. The WFP will now aim to help Nixon court the more progressive wing of the party, led by advocacy groups but not labor unions, which have largely sided with the incumbent.

Nixon backers, including those in the WFP, are among those being asked the qualifications question.

“Experience can be good,” tweeted WFP Director Bill Lipton. “But character and values: priceless."

As she has done a round of initial interviews, Nixon has been asked several variations of the question about her qualifications and whether, given Trump, anyone should be seeking another “political amateur” or “celebrity candidate.”

“I think first and foremost Donald Trump was real estate developer, and he inherited his money and his company from his father. That could not be more different from me,” Nixon said during a recent appearance on CBS’ The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. “I grew up here, in a single bedroom, five-floor walk-up, with a single mom. I went to public school. I started acting when I was twelve, in order to pay for my college, because my family couldn’t afford to.”

“I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with celebrity in politics,” Nixon continued. “It gives you a platform, but it’s what you choose to do with that platform. Do you choose do give yourself and other one-percenters a massive tax break that they don’t need, or do you choose to advocate for important things that need your voice, like LGBTQ equality, or women’s rights, including women’s right to choose, or better public schools, which I have been advocating for, and fighting for, for the better part of 20 years. I think that’s exactly the kind of progressive resume that a progressive leader of New York should have right now.”

Nixon has previously said that Cuomo was able to become governor because his father had been governor and he had a famous name, a charge the incumbent and his allies pushed back on, pointing to Andrew Cuomo’s experience in the administration of President Bill Clinton and tenure as New York attorney general.

Over the past 80 years, every governor of New York has had some political or government background. Most served in government on the federal level, in the state Legislature, or as state attorney general.

Not only is the governor responsible for outlining and negotiating a state budget every year, but, as the chief executive of the state signs or vetoes bills passed by the Legislature, runs the executive branch of the government that implements laws that pass and oversees local governments, makes appointments to a variety of courts, authorities, and boards, issues pardons, and calls special elections, among other powers.

The governor is also the face and voice of the state in many respects, both formal and informal. By state law, the governor must simply be at least 30 years old, a United States citizen, and a New York resident for at least five years. The governor is elected to a four-year term, and there are no term limits.

Teachout -- a law professor also running without government experience -- was seen by many as a protest candidate with no real chance of winning the 2014 Democratic primary against Cuomo, but ultimately forced him to support more liberal policies and won 34 percent of the vote with limited resources and name recognition. It appears Nixon will have neither of those problems, and she is already polling close to where Teachout finished.

“Obviously Andrew Cuomo starts in a very strong place. He’s been elected statewide three times, he’s got $30 million in the bank, and Democrats like him,” said Steve Greenberg, founder of Greenberg Public Relations. “Nixon has certain challenges. The real tough part for Nixon…is that she has to convince voters who are inclined to like Andrew Cuomo, who do like Andrew Cuomo – she’s got to give them a reason to not like and support Cuomo and come to her side.”

A Siena College poll released April 17 showed Cuomo is favored by 62 percent of Democrats, while 33 percent supported Nixon. Though Nixon may not be a household name like actors-turned-political-candidates Trump or Arnold Schwarzenegger, her celebrity status gives her name recognition, fundraising potential, and widespread media buzz Teachout lacked. But can she translate intrigue into confidence and convince enough voters to believe she is the right person to be the next governor?

“Donald Trump struck a chord with certain voters because of the issues he talked about, whether it was building a wall and getting Mexico to pay for it or ‘Lock her up’ or getting us out of TPP, at least for a year. Donald Trump may have been a celebrity, but he talked about issues that appealed to voters,” Greenberg said. “(Nixon’s) been talking about a variety of issues and the question is, are the issues she’s talking about going to break through and motivate people to vote for her and how many people vote for her.”

Former U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, who retired in 2017, was for a time a possible Republican gubernatorial candidate for this year, and now chairs the campaign of Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro, the likely GOP nominee. While Gibson had decades of military experience, before running for Congress he had no background in electoral politics before he was elected in 2011.

“I was a soldier for 29 years, so when I was elected to the Congress, I had no political experience,” Gibson said. “So, I think as long as one is committed to listening and learning and committed to service, I think with aptitude you can really make tremendous strides, so I don’t think it’s the case that if you’ve had no experience, you can’t be effective.”

Gibson stressed that a potential candidate with no government experience does face more challenges than those that have some, but with a humble temperament and being a good listener, a candidate can overcome those challenges.

“I think for any leader the most important attribute is being a good listener. If you’re going to be an executive, it’s vitally important to understand the people you’re going to lead and where they’re coming from,” he said. “I think you have to have a real temperament of humility to understand how much you need to learn. I think that’s an important feature here.”

Gibson said he did not know much about Nixon personally, but sees her participation in the gubernatorial election as a positive thing.

“The hallmark of democracy is vibrant debate and I think her being in the race will be a plus for the state, because she’s really going start this debate on what kind of leadership we want going forward and towards that end, I think it will hold Cuomo accountable,” he said.

Nixon has argued that she would govern very differently from Cuomo, whom she and other critics of the governor see as someone more focused on his own power than on being collaborative -- a charge also being made by Republicans like Molinaro. Both Nixon and Molinaro have already sought to portray themselves as in better touch with average New Yorkers than Cuomo.

Some Republicans have pointed to Molinaro’s resume as including a strong blend of legislative and executive experience, with limited time spent in Albany, where he was a member of the state Assembly for a handful of years, that gives him credibility as an outsider who will shake things up in the capital. Nixon has advocacy and organizing experience, but has made her career as an actor, with no formal executive experience, something that other political outsiders running for office, like Trump and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, could offer from their business empires.

Along with her advocacy work, Nixon talks up her experiences as a public school parent, regular subway rider, and nearly life-long union member, given the early age at which she began her professional acting career. On her campaign website, Nixon also boasts of her efforts to travel the state and the country pushing elected officials on a variety of issues, and raising money for her favored causes: education equity, LGBTQ rights, and women’s reprodutive freedoms.

She has appeared to acknowledge early in the campaign that she has a lot to learn about issues facing New Yorkers and communities across the vast state, and stressed the importance of listening to people. It is unclear how familiar she is with the details of state government and the nuances of the job she is seeking.

Above all, it seems, Nixon and her supporters are offering her as a candidate with the right values, character, and approach to decision-making.

Generally, Republicans, including those in the Molinaro campaign, have celebrated Nixon’s entrance into the race, believing that it will help their candidate prevail in the general election, either over a battered Cuomo or over Nixon after a shocking primary victory.

“Governor Cuomo’s record of progressive accomplishment is unmatched – from delivering a $15 minimum wage, marriage equality, the strongest gun safety laws in the nation, free college tuition, paid family leave, a record $27 billion in funding for education and sweeping measures to protect new York’s environment,” said campaign spokesperson Abbey Fashouer, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “We’ll put that record up against anyone, anytime.”

Along with some of those policy accomplishments, Cuomo is running on his work as an executive, including what he and supporters have described as getting New York state government functioning again, perhaps best exemplified by Cuomo’s record of overseeing passage of eight straight on-time or nearly on-time budgets -- a break from Albany tradition when the spending plans were at times passed months late.

On the other hand, Cuomo promised to clean up state government and has not been successful in doing so, with a continued parade of ethical and legal violations from those in and around state government, including Cuomo’s former top aide, Joseph Percoco, who was recently convicted of multiple federal corruption charges.

Nixon is not only running on criticism of Cuomo for not instituting sweeping government ethics and campaign finance reforms, but a variety of liberal positions, including the legalization of recreational marijuana and a promise to strengthen rent regulations, increase education funding to poorer school districts, and more.

All political observers Gotham Gazette spoke with stressed that at the end of the day, voters determine their own criteria and Democratic primary voters will decide whether Nixon is qualified to be governor.

“It really is not up to the pundits. It really is not up to the media. It is up to the voters to determine whether a candidate is qualified for the office he or she is running for,” said Greenberg. “Talking heads can say all they want…but voters get to decide.”

Ashley Hupfl is a freelance journalist. On Twitter @AshleyHupfl.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, April 23

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Eyes of the New York political world are on Westchester as this week begins. There are 11 special elections Tuesday to fill vacant state legislative seats, but the big one is the State Senate race in District 37. While the district is home to a Democratic advantage it is an area where Republicans can and have won. The seat was previously held by Democrat George Latimer, who vacated it when he won his race for Westchester County Executive.

It is one of two Senate seats being filled Tuesday, the other is in the very safely Democratic Bronx, in District 32, a seat previously held by now-City Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr. Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda appears a lock to move to the Senate.

If Democrat Shelley Mayer, currently an Assemblymember as well, prevails over Republican Julie Killian in District 37, Democrats will take those two seats and their conference -- including the recently reunified former members of the Independent Democratic Conference -- will boast 31 members in the 63-seat chamber. The Republican conference would still hold a one-seat majority, which includes Brooklyn’s Simcha Felder, who won his last election on the Democratic and Republican ballot lines after multiple other wins as a Democrat. Felder has said he is open to being in whichever conference gives him and his constituents the best deal. Negotiations with Felder from both sides of the aisle are likely to intensify this week if he is indeed the deciding factor in which party holds a majority, though there are still some questions about whether Democrats could take control of the chamber even if they have a 32-seat conference given rules of the Senate that have been established for the current two-year session, which ends at the end of this year.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat seeking a third term this year, has said that it is important to win the two vacant seats -- and he was in District 37 again on Sunday to boost Mayer’s candidacy -- but that Democrats also need to look to flip Senate seats in November, when the entire Legislature is on the ballot.

Meanwhile, the state Legislature is in session three days this week. There are 27 scheduled session days left, including this week’s, before the legislative year is set to end in Albany in June.

It is a very busy week at the City Council, with a wide variety of committee hearings on bills and to perform oversight. There is also a full-body Stated Meeting on Wednesday, at which new bills are introduced and bills that have passed committee are voted through the full Council.

And, Mayor de Blasio is expected to release his Executive Budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 this week, though timing could change.

 There are a variety of events to be aware of this week - see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

On Monday at 10 a.m. at City Hall, “First Lady McCray will make an announcement regarding the City’s efforts to reduce mental health stigma and improve mental health care delivery in communities of color. The First Lady will be joined by Deputy Mayor J. Phillip Thompson, Pastor Michael Walrond, U.S. Rep. Greg Meeks, and the leaders of Alpha Phi Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma, Iota Phi Theta, and 100 Black Men. This event is open press. There will be Q-and-A.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio's only public event scheduled for Monday is his weekly appearance on NY1's Inside City Hall, in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Committee on Small Business will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the Small Business First Initiative.
--The Committee on Criminal Justice will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “safety and security in DOC facilities,” as well as to discuss proposed laws “requiring the department of correction to report on the rate of lockdowns,” “prohibiting fees for telephone calls from inmates in city jails,” and “requiring the Department of Correction to report on use by department staff of any device designed to incapacitate a person through the use of an electric shock.”
--The Committee on Aging will meet at 10:30 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “social adult day care,” as well as to discuss proposed laws relating to “requiring the Department of the Aging to report on senior centers” and “inspections for social adult day cares and senior centers and reporting.”
--The Committee on Environmental Protection will meet at noon to discuss several proposed laws related to energy efficiency in buildings, including one “requiring that all city-owned buildings be powered by green energy sources by 2050” and another relating to “the creation of wind maps demonstrating wind energy generation potential within the city,” as well as to discuss a resolution “in support of the Governor of New York State in the commitment to and facilitation of the development of large-scale offshore wind projects by 2030.”
--The Committee on Women will meet at 12:30 to make a few tweaks to measures passed by the Council as part of its recent anti-sexual harassment package, including trainings at city agencies, climate surveys, and action plans.
--The Committee on Civil and Human Rights will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss proposed laws “creating an Office of Diversity and Inclusion within the Department of Citywide Administrative Services,” “requiring the Equal Employment Practices Commission to analyze and report annually on citywide racial and ethnic classification underutilization and adverse impact,” and “requiring the Department of Citywide Administrative Services to review and report annually on the city’s efforts to collect racial and ethnic demographic information, including a review of racial classification categories and employee response rates.”
--The Committee on Environmental Protection will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding flooding and sea level rise in Jamaica Bay, as well as to discuss proposed laws to launch a study on the city’s most flood-prone areas, “developing a geothermal pilot program for institutional use in the groundwater supply service area,” and creating a “Jamaica Bay task force, which would oversee the cleanup of Jamaica Bay.”
--The Committee on Civil Service and Labor will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss a proposed law relating to “reporting of pay and employment equity data.”

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Monday in Albany.

On Monday at 10 a.m. in Albany, "The New York State Assembly will hold a public hearing to examine the practice of medical aid in dying (AID), as well as potential legislation to authorize this practice. Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried will take testimony on Assembly legislation (A.2383-A, Paulin) that would enable terminally ill individuals with the decision-making capacity to voluntarily request and receive a prescription for medication to end their lives."

"On Monday at 8:30 AM, Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams will lead dozens of Brooklynites on his fourth annual Bike-to-Work ride, highlighting dangerous corridors in the borough and remembering recent victims of traffic violence as he kicks off his Earth Week celebrations in and around the borough. The event will highlight the positive impact that New Yorkers can have on their local environment by using pedal power to get around the city. At the press conference leading into the ride, Borough President Adams will speak to safe street infrastructure improvements that he is asking the City to prioritize." Other participants will include City Council Members Brad Lander, Stephen Levin, and Carlos Menchaca, the American Heart Association, Brooklyn Public Library, Citi Bike, New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (NYC Parks), New York City Police Department (NYPD), Park Slope Neighbors, Prospect Park Alliance, Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Corporation, Red Hook Initiative, StreetsPAC, and Transportation Alternatives.

At 9:30 a.m. Monday, criminal justice reform advocates will rally at the Broadway gate of City Hall to demand the mayor and City Council pass a law providing free phone calls to inmates at city jails. Currently, the city’s proposed budget includes “$5 million in revenue generated from phone calls from City jails.”

At 10:30 a.m. Monday, schools "Chancellor Richard A. Carranza will visit a software engineering class, robotics class, and a social studies lesson on the Bill of Rights at JHS 216 George J Ryan in Queens. In the afternoon, he will meet with students and families at town hall events," at 4 and 5:30 p.m. at Francis Lewis High School in Queens.

At 11 a.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will host a "roundtable with New Yorkers impacted by the commercial bail bond industry," at Exodus Transitional Community.

At noon Monday, activists will march from the Sheridan Hollow Power Plant site to the State Capitol to demand that Governor Cuomo “halt all fracking infrastructure, commit to 100% renewable energy in New York, and make corporate polluters pay for the damage they cause.”

At 1 p.m. Monday, CITY Council Member Andy King, Taxi & Limousine Commissioner Meera Joshi, police officers, and cab drivers will hold a press conference outside the Ultimate Grill restaurant in Baychester, Bronx to announce “submitted legislation to ensure safety for TLC drivers when confronted with an emergency.”

On Tuesday, there will be special elections to fill vacated seats in the State Senate and State Assembly. The elections will be held in Senate Districts 32 and 37, and Assembly Districts 5, 10, 17, 39, 74, 80, 102, 107, and 142.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will appear on NY1 Tuesday morning at 7:30 a.m. At 4:15 p.m., Johnson will speak at the Alliance for Downtown New York Board Meeting. And at 7:30 p.m., he will attend the Tulip Celebration at The Center.

On Tuesday morning, "First Lady McCray will deliver remarks at a convening by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, entitled “The Role of the Arts in Ending the Stigma of Mental Illness.”

At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall, "City Council Member Mark Treyger, Chair of the Committee on Education, will be joined by fellow Council Members, elected officials, UFT President Michael Mulgrew, union members and officials, and new parents at a press conference to urge the administration to negotiate a paid parental leave program for hundreds of thousands of city workers. Treyger will also announce the date of an upcoming Council hearing on the subject." Other participants will include Council Members Laurie Cumbo, Daniel Dromm, Ben Kallos, and Keith Powers.

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing reviewing “DSNY’s Waste Characterization Study.”
--The Committee on Public Housing will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “property management in NYCHA.”
--The Committee on Health will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding animal care centers, and to discuss a proposed law relating to animal shelters.
--The Committee on Immigration will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the city’s support of “immigrant parents of children ages 0-5.”
--The Committee on General Welfare will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding an “update on the NYC 15/15 Initiative” to build 15,000 new units of supportive housing over the next 15 years, and to discuss a proposed law relating to “reporting on supportive housing.” Council Speaker Corey Johnson will deliver opening remarks.
--The Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss several proposed laws relating to sight-seeing buses.

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday in Albany.

At noon Tuesday at City Hall, "Gathering on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday, L train riders and transit advocates will demand that Mayor de Blasio implement a 24-hour-a-day busway and other aggressive street changes during the 15 months of L train construction next year. The advocates will highlight an analysis of L train ridership and 14th Street traffic capacity produced by Transportation Alternatives, showing that, without a proposed 14th Street busway, neighboring streets would be inundated with trucks, private cars, taxis, and for-hire cars, causing unprecedented congestion and pollution in nearby communities during next year's L shutdown. The data will show that the 50,000 riders who use the L daily only within Manhattan would fit into 1,250 bus trips...or, without a strong bus plan, as many as 40,000 private vehicles, a "nightmare scenario" alternative that could paralyze city streets with up to 40,000 unnecessary car trips every day." Participants will include "transit advocates including the Riders Alliance, Regional Plan Association, Transportation Alternatives, Straphangers Campaign, and Tri-State Transportation Campaign."

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, Metro IAF will hold an affordable housing rally at City Hall. Public Advocate Letitia James and Comptroller Scott Stringer will be among the speakers.

At 6:30 p.m., Public Advocate James will deliver remarks at the CUNY LGBTQI Leadership Program Advisory Council Meeting. And at 7:30 p.m., James will deliver remarks at The Wing’s TueNight Live Storytelling Event, at The Wing Dumbo.

On Tuesday, the Youth Progressive Policy Group will hold a lobbying day in Albany in support of the Young Voter Act, which would lower the voting age to 17, amend the state’s civics education curriculum, and require schools to distribute voter registration forms to 17 year olds.

On Tuesday evening, "Mayor de Blasio will deliver remarks at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Annual Gala."

The City Council will hold a stated meeting at City Hall at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. A pre-stated press conference led by Speaker Corey Johnson is expected beforehand, at 12:30 p.m.

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Wednesday in Albany.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the MTA will hold a board meeting.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Panel for Educational Policy will hold a policy meeting at Murry Bergtraum High School on the Lower East Side.

Mayor de Blasio is expected to unveil on Thursday his Executive Budget proposal for the upcoming 2019 city fiscal year, which begins July 1.

At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Committee on Youth Services will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to “establishing an anti-bullying hotline and additional resources for youth” and to “creating an ombudsman position within the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development.”
--The Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “Third Party Transfers and HDFCs,” which stands for Housing Development Fund Corporation, or affordable housing in the form of co-ops.
--The Committees on Mental Health and Hospitals will meet jointly at 1 p.m. at the Metropolitan Hospital Center on the Upper East Side, for an oversight hearing regarding “the future of psychiatric care in New York City’s hospital infrastructure.”
--The Committee on Governmental Operations will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “OATH hearing procedures of Taxi and Limousine Commission related violations,” as well as to discuss proposed laws relating to “the broadcasting of mandatory debates,” to “certain taxi and limousine commission-related hearing procedures of the office of administrative trials and hearings,” and to “an online list of required reports.”

At 10 a.m. Thursday, the City Planning Commission will hold a public meeting at 120 Broadway.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, the New York City Bar Association will host “Regulatory Future of Marihuana Laws in New York State,” featuring a panel consisting of State Senator Liz Krueger, Harrison Phillips of Viridian Capital Advisors, Chris Alexander of the Drug Policy Alliance, and attorneys David Feder and Jil Mazer-Marino.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, City & State will announce its “Staten Island Power 100” at the Hilton Garden Inn in Staten Island, with keynote remarks from Borough President James Oddo. This will be the first installment of City & State’s new Power 100 series in each borough.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, New York Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir will host a discussion with MTA Chair Joe Lhota and MTA Board Member Veronica Vanterpool, talking about “what can be done to ensure the future success of the New York subway system.” The event will take place at the Museum of the City of New York, part of the “Only in New York” series of talks at the museum hosted by Maslin Nir. (This event was originally scheduled for March 21 but was postponed due to snow.)

Friday and the weekend
Mayor de Blasio may make his weekly Friday morning appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show.

The Regional Plan Association will hold its annual Assembly on Friday at the Grand Hyatt in Midtown, bringing together numerous leaders in business and government to discuss “ideas we need to move forward on today to tackle some of the region's biggest challenges in order to ensure sustainability, good governance and shared prosperity.” The keynote speakers this year will be former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. Other speakers include MTA President Patrick Foye, New York City Transit President Andy Byford, former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Letitia James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and former MTA Chair Tom Prendergast, among others.

"NYC Loft Tenants, City Councilmember Stephen Levin, New York State Assembly Member Maritza Davila, and the Dumbo Neighborhood Alliance will hold a press conference​ & protest in the street​ on Broadway in Lower Manhattan outside the NYC Department of Buildings​ at 280 Broadway on Friday April 27th at 1PM to call for transparency, accountability, enforcement and an end to rampant anti-tenant bias. Our elected officials, activists, and tenants will speak out to demand that the DOB listen and reform it's recalcitrant, anti-tenant practices and policies."

At 9 a.m. Saturday, the Latino Leadership Institute will hold its "Women for Electoral Politics 2018 Conference" at DC37 offices in the Financial District, discussing strategies and skills "necessary to actively participate in NYC electoral politics." Speakers will include Public Advocate Letitia James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, City Council Members Carlina Rivera and Diana Ayala, Cecilia Gaston of the Violence Intervention Program, and Ann Oliveira of the New York Women's Foundation.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

Major Cuomo Supporters Don’t Want a Democratic State Senate

Cuomo ABNY speech

Cuomo at ABNY (photo: Don Pollard/Governor's Office)

With the specter of a competitive Democratic primary squarely in front of him, Governor Andrew Cuomo, the two-term incumbent, announced on Wednesday, April 4 that he had brokered a unity deal between two groups of Democrats in the state Senate, setting the stage for the possibility of capturing the majority in the chamber, which is the only Republican stronghold in state government. Cuomo brought together the mainline Senate Democrats and the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference, a group of eight senators elected as Democrats but who have formed a ruling coalition with Republicans.

While Cuomo and Democratic leaders celebrated the unity plan, casting an optimist eye toward two key special elections happening April 24 and the fall elections wherein every seat in the state Legislature is on the ballot. The governor listed off policy priorities that he said were stymied by Senate Republicans and said Democrats must take the chamber in order to enact more progress.

The next day, Thursday, April 5, Cuomo gave a speech at a gathering hosted the Association for a Better New York (ABNY), a business advocacy group. In it, Cuomo highlighted aspects of the recently-passed state budget -- including attempts to mitigate any pain soon to be felt by middle and upper-income New Yorkers due to the new federal tax code -- and ongoing state infrastructure investments. The governor made no mention of the Senate Democratic unity deal he had celebrated the day before, nor did he repeat the list of policies, like campaign finance reform, that he said he intends to pass when Democrats control the Senate.

The choices appear deliberate, give that many in the ABNY crowd, where Cuomo routinely receives a hero’s welcome, may not favor a Democratic Senate. A number of the governor’s most prominent financial backers, including business and real estate entities, are also big donors to Senate Republicans and may not be pleased with the Democratic unity deal. While Cuomo has been roundly criticized by left-wing Democrats for accepting, if not propping up, the IDC and Senate GOP control, and therefore not passing enough progressive legislation, the governor has often been supported by the New York City business community, many members of which see him as like-minded: progressive on social issues but moderate on taxes and spending, friendly toward real estate developers and charter schools, and invested in major infrastructure improvements.

Indeed, in introducing Cuomo at the ABNY event, the Chairman of the ABNY board, Steven Rubenstein, praised Cuomo for passing marriage equality and gun control, as well as raising the minimum wage, undertaking major infrastructure projects, and passing timely budgets every year.

One of the most prominent members of ABNY is the Real Estate Board of New York, or REBNY, whose political action committee, The Real Estate Board PAC, has donated over $112,000 to Cuomo’s gubernatorial campaign committees. Meanwhile, it has donated $507,000 to the Senate Republicans’ campaign committee since 2009, which does not include donations to individual Senate candidate campaigns or independent expenditures.

The governor has also received large sums of campaign cash from other frequent supporters of a Republican Senate, such as charter school organizations, including Eva Moskowitz’s Great Public Schools PAC, which has given the governor $115,000 for his campaigns. Great Public Schools has given the Senate Republicans $60,000 since 2009, and $25,000 to the IDC.

Republicans argue that a fully Democratic state government would spell doom.

“An entire state government made up of extreme, tax-and-spend politicians racing each other to the far left would be an unmitigated disaster for hardworking taxpayers Upstate, in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island,” said Scott Reif, a Senate GOP spokesperson, in a statement reacting to the unity deal. “It would lead to higher taxes, more corruption and thousands of families fleeing our state. More than ever before, we need checks and balances to prevent the radical New York City politicians from doing whatever the hell they want.”

At the April 4 press conference at his Manhattan office, Cuomo framed the unity deal as an opportunity to enact progressive reforms that have been blocked by the IDC and Senate Republicans throughout his governorship, such as bail reform, voting reform, the DREAM Act, campaign finance and voting reforms, and the Child Victims Act, to name a few.

“These are all progressive principles that were not passed in the budget and which we will not pass until we have a Democratic Senate,” the governor said.

Though Cuomo’s governance has moved leftward throughout his initial reelection bid and second term, the governor typically appears most comfortable in a position of moderate compromise and triangulation, happy to broker deals between the Democratic Assembly and Republican Senate, often at his own pace and with progressive accomplishments he has decided to own.

Cuomo’s style has alienated many on the left, leading the liberal Working Families Party to endorse the governor’s primary challenger, actor and activist Cynthia Nixon.

As labor unions left the WFP to side with Cuomo, he explicitly rebuked community advocates in the party, and reportedly threatened their existence.

With two special elections for vacated Senate seats taking place on April 24, the split between Cuomo and some of his most prominent backers who would prefer a Republican-led Senate is more clear. One election, for Senate District 32 in the Bronx, is a seat vacated by now-City Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr. and is expected to remain safely Democratic. The other, District 37 in Westchester, is not so clear cut, and as a result has garnered significant attention and spending.

The governor has come out in full force to campaign for Shelley Mayer, an Assembly member and the Democratic candidate for Senate in District 37; meanwhile, the Real Estate Board PAC has financially supported Republican nominee Julie Killian, donating $11,000 to her campaign committee. Killian is also receiving significant support through the Senate Republican campaign committee, where the REBNY PAC has given generously.

According to NY State of Politics, REBNY’s independent expenditure arm, Jobs for New York, had spent at least $92,000 on Killian’s behalf as of late March.

Retaining the seat, vacated by now Westchester County Executive George Latimer, is crucial for Senate Democrats if they wish to take control of the chamber in the near future. As such, the seat has attracted not just high profile campaigners and direct campaign contributions, but hundreds of thousands of dollars in independent spending.

The largest spender in the race is New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, a political action committee backed by StudentsFirst NY, an education reform entity that pushes for tougher teacher evaluations tied to standardized tests and expansion of charter schools. New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany has spent more than $800,000 on television and radio ads in the Westchester special election, according to campaign finance filings.

Notably, the Real Estate Board had donated $11,050 to Latimer’s campaigns for Senate, and $1,000 to his campaign for County Executive, according to the State Board of Elections.

Still, many in the business community have concerns about a Democratic state Senate. The Partnership for New York City, a business group, believes bluntly that it would be bad for business.

“The business community typically relies on Senate Republicans to step on the brakes when Democrats want to pass a bill that would damage the state economy,” said Kathryn Wylde, President and CEO of the Partnership. “If this were not an option, we would have to rely on good sense prevailing when a bad bill is introduced. Not always a safe bet in Albany!”

Many of the Partnership’s members are prominent donors to Cuomo’s campaigns, as well as to Senate Republicans. Overlap among the three can be seen in real estate donors, such as SL Green, Vornado, and Tishman Speyer, as well as donors in the finance and banking sector, such as Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, and HSBC.

Whatever issues might or might not arise, Cuomo’s relationship with business doesn’t seem to have taken an enormous hit yet; the day after he announced the unity deal with Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and IDC Leader Jeff Klein, Cuomo and MTA Chair Joe Lhota spoke to ABNY.

The MTA was a key focus of the program, with Cuomo touting new measures in the state budget to fund the system, and Lhota presenting on the next phase of his Subway Action Plan, which Cuomo had insisted the city fund half of, forcing the city’s hand through a budget mechanism. Cuomo, who did not mention his plans for a Democratic Senate, received several ovations.

A spokesperson for ABNY declined to comment for this story.

Gerald Benjamin, a political scientist and the Director of the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz, doesn’t believe that the relationship between Cuomo and business will be significantly affected, because the relationship is more grounded in influence than ideology. Instead, special interests will try to influence whoever is in power, whether they be Democrats or Republicans in the Senate, Assembly, or Governor’s Mansion, he said.

“We have a long history of New York interest groups giving money to whomever is in power,” Benjamin said, “so that they can get influence over the decisions they would like to influence. So it’s common for New York interest groups, labor unions for example, to give money to Republicans in the Senate and the Democrats in the Assembly. And then give money to Republican governors and Democrat governors. They’re trying to influence decision-making going forward.”

The Working Families Party and Cynthia Nixon, among others, have accused Cuomo of wanting Senate Republicans to hold sway in that chamber.

“Why did he keep Senate Republicans in power,” said Bill Lipton, the director of the New York WFP, at the party's meeting endorsing Nixon. “To keep taxes low for his donors so he could continue to take in contributions from real estate and hedge fund millionaires and billionaires: $31 million to be exact.”

The governor’s campaign did not return a request for comment.

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Ben Max contributed to this article.

Cuomo Touts Political Ad Transparency Law as Other Reforms Languish

Cuomo bill signing democracy

Cuomo at Wednesday's bill-signing (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)

Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday held a ceremonial bill-signing, one of several since the state budget was approved, to tout the passage of new restrictions and disclosure requirements for political advertisements on social media. But the bill was a component of Cuomo’s larger Democracy Agenda, measures including voting and campaign finance reform that otherwise fell by the wayside during budget negotiations and seem unlikely to pass in the remaining months of the legislative session in Albany.    

“We have a crisis in our election system,” Cuomo told a room full of people at the Cardozo School of Law in Manhattan on Wednesday. “We now know that our election system was influenced and tampered with by foreign entities. And it’s not partisan rhetoric, it’s not a science fiction novel. We know it. Russia was involved.”

Prompted by the widespread Russian influence campaign that targeted nearly two dozen states during the 2016 presidential election and the proliferation of secretive political advertising on social media platforms like Facebook, Cuomo proposed and the state Legislature successfully passed the “Democracy Protection Act,” which prohibits foreign entities from creating independent expenditure committees or buying political ads, requires anyone who purchases an online political ad to register as an independent expenditure committee, and also requires online ads to include information about who paid for them, as is currently required of traditional media platforms.

The state Board of Elections will also now create an public archive of those online ads and retain them for five years.

“We right now have a toxic cocktail that has brewed,” Cuomo said of the “explosion of social media” and the “anonymity” and “targeting ability” of social media platforms. “They know your preferences, they know who you are, what you look like, what you buy, where you shop. They know your shoe size and they can target a message just to you,” he said, “and we then have the access by the foreign entities to these online platforms.”

Cuomo loftily insisted that the legislation will “fundamentally change” elections in the state and predicted, “This law is going to force national change.” Several progressive movements -- for women’s rights, environmental rights, worker safety rules, gay rights, civil rights -- he exclaimed, started in New York and that inaction in Washington, D.C. necessitates that states forge ahead on tackling the issues accompanying elections in the digital age.

But New York leading the way on election and campaign-related reforms appears to be an imperfect message from New York and a messenger like Cuomo. The state has been a laggard on improving voter participation and access, and its outdated laws fall far behind most other states. Cuomo himself has railed against weaknesses in state campaign finance laws while exploiting them for his own campaigns.

In 2017, Cuomo released a 10-point government ethics and voting reform agenda, which included early voting, automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, and campaign finance changes such as closing the LLC loophole, which allows anonymous donors to flood candidates’ campaign coffers in New York. Cuomo has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of that loophole and has done little to actually push for its closure. None of those reforms passed last year.

This year, Cuomo proposed many of the reforms again, adding $7 million in proposed funding to implement early voting and banning outside income for legislators. But yet again, all but the online ads bill fell through. Cuomo made no mention of the other planks of his Democracy Agenda at Wednesday’s celebratory event, where he positioned New York as a national leader. He also took no questions from reporters at the two events where he made appearances Wednesday.

Most of the reforms are opposed by Republicans in the state Senate who continue to control the chamber with the help of a rogue Democratic Senator, Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, who caucuses with the GOP to give them a one-vote majority. But Cuomo, when he wants to, has been able to convince Republicans to vote through bills that they might traditionally oppose including marriage equality, gun control measures, and a major hike in the minimum wage.

Cuomo has repeatedly laid the blame for the failure of his proposals on the Republicans, who for seven years were allied with a breakaway group of eight Democratic Senators called the Independent Democratic Conference. In a deal recently brokered by Cuomo, the IDC rejoined the mainline Democratic conference. The Democrats are now counting on victories in special elections for two state Senate races on April 24 to be on par with Republicans in the Senate. Felder’s loyalty in that situation remains an open question. Cuomo has said the goal is to then pick up additional seats in the fall’s regularly-scheduled elections for all seats in the Legislature.

Earlier on Wednesday, Cuomo restored voting rights to individuals on parole through an executive order, arguing that the order was necessary since the measure wouldn’t have passed the Senate. (Cuomo’s primary opponent Cynthia Nixon, and others have said, however, that Cuomo is increasingly pursuing popular progressive measures by any means necessary because of the threat of a strong primary challenge.)

Similarly, Cuomo justified the unification deal by insisting it was necessary to pass progressive reforms that have failed for years. “We finished the budget. We did a lot of good things in the budget, but there are also things that we didn’t pass that we need to pass...The Child Victims Act, more gun safety, bail reform, the DREAM Act, banning outside income, campaign finance reform, early voting,” he said at a news conference announcing the deal at his executive offices in Manhattan.

He went on, “These are all core, essential progressive principles that were not passed in the budget and which we will not pass until we have a Democratic Senate.” It’s unclear, however, if a Democratic Senate itself will come to pass any time soon, or if the appetite would be there for the types of voting, campaign finance, and government ethics reforms that Cuomo has said he supports.

[Read: Cuomo Turns Budget Failures Into Justification for Democratic Unity]

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Republican Governors Association ‘Keeping Close Eye’ on New York

Cuomo Christie

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office)

In the 2014 race for governor, when Governor Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic incumbent, was leading by 37 points over his Republican rival Rob Astorino with nearly four months till Election Day, the Republican Governors Association wrote off the loss.

Then-RGA chair Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey at the time, publicly refused to come to Astorino’s aid. “I will spend time in places where we have a chance to win — I said that right from the beginning,” Christie said in late-July 2014, according to NJ.com. When asked if he’d campaign in New York, he added, “We don’t pay for landslides and we don’t invest in lost causes.” Astorino went on to lose by about 14 points, receiving 40.6 percent of the vote to Cuomo’s 54 percent, with some saying that though he faced steep odds, he had virtually no chance without support from the RGA and other forces that sat it out. Cuomo and Christie had a good relationship, and appeared to have something of a non-aggression pact.

This time around, with resentment against Cuomo intensifying among Democrats on the left, the incumbent’s vulnerabilities showing on issues like the state-run New York City subway system and government corruption, and with Republicans eager to build on victories from 2016, the RGA is watching New York closely while state party leaders prepare to pitch the RGA for help in electing the party’s first statewide official in New York since 2002.     

“We are keeping a close eye on the New York governor’s race,” said Jon Thompson, RGA communications director, in an email to Gotham Gazette. “The RGA does not get involved in GOP primaries, but once voters choose a nominee, we will take a hard look at how we can make an impact. If Governor Cuomo’s approval ratings continue to drop, or he loses the primary to Cynthia Nixon, it could create an environment that is competitive for Republicans.”

The winds have changed since 2014 and a third-term for Cuomo no longer seems an absolute certainty. An enraged and engaged activist base is seeking to push the centrist governor further to his left, boosting the unlikely possibility that actor and activist Cynthia Nixon could prevail in her longshot Democratic primary challenge. The stink of corruption continues to linger over Cuomo’s administration, with one former top aide to the governor recently convicted of fraud and accepting bribes, and another headed to trial on corruption charges in June. And then there’s a degree of Cuomo fatigue, evident from recent polling that shows the governor’s favorability at one of the lowest points in the seven years he has held his seat and voters more interested in “someone else” than reelecting Cuomo.

For Republicans, the time seems ripe for a strong challenge, embodied most likely by Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, the Republican candidate who has already locked up enough endorsements to secure the party’s nomination at its convention in late May. His main opponent, state Senator John DeFrancisco of Syracuse, even acknowledged that Molinaro has the leg up after the state Conservative Party chose last week to back Molinaro’s bid, (“It’s obvious that Molinaro has the momentum,” he said, according to The Buffalo News) but has not dropped out of the race. Both candidates have pledged that they will not contest a primary beyond the convention, keeping in line with the party’s plan of unifying behind a single candidate after the nomination is formally decided, giving that candidate from June until November to run with full GOP support.

But even though Cuomo may stand bloodied and bruised, whether from his own failings or after what is expected to be a scorched earth primary, he has a campaign warchest of $30 million and counting, far surpassing any candidate in the field on either side. That makes the intervention of the RGA a potentially game-changing factor for a Republican candidate’s campaign.

“They can’t coordinate but they certainly can have a huge impact,” said New York State Republican Committee Chair Ed Cox, in a phone interview. “And they know how to win gubernatorial elections.”

As opposed to 2014, Cox sees a clear path for a Republican victory this year -- with the governor’s mounting scandals, his second-term swing to the left that has created resentment upstate, and his use of the race as a springboard for a presidential bid, which Cox said would rub voters the wrong way. There’s also the possibility, he noted, that Cuomo will lose votes in the general to third party candidates -- Nixon won the endorsement of the Working Families Party, which would allow her to be on the general election ballot even if she loses the Democratic primary; and Howie Hawkins is running for governor for a third time on the Green Party line, on which he came in third with more than 180,000 votes in 2014.

In a race between a “governor who is a political thug” like Cuomo, and a “very impressive” candidate like Molinaro, Republicans stand a chance, Cox said. “New York may be a blue state, but it’s a blue-collar state, not a West Side Manhattan blue state,” Cox said.

“The money that the RGA could bring to any given gubernatorial race is massive,” said Heath Brown, associate professor of public policy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, and an expert in campaign finance. “The millions of dollars that they could bring into a race, specially on the advertising side, has in the past been very significant in many states...Where they spend that money is I think very debated, but it’s not debatable at all that if they decide to get involved in a race, that they, at the state level, can be one of the biggest players in any gubernatorial race.”

Just on Tuesday, the RGA announced that it had raised $87 million so far in the 2018 cycle, $23.6 millon of which was in the first quarter of this year alone.

With 36 governor seats on the ballot this year, those resources will be put to use in competitive races. The RGA has already booked $34 million in television ads in the closing weeks of the general election in ten states: Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Arizona, Alaska, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. Some of that funding may be employed by RGA Right Direction PAC, an independent expenditure group entirely funded by the RGA, which had just under $1 million at its disposal at the end of March.

Brown noted, however, that New York may be far down the list of RGA priorities. The national politics around President Trump, which may in some ways boost Republican enthusiasm, have also by-and-large riled up Democrats, and observers widely believe a blue wave is going to crash across the country. “I think everyone expects New York to be solidly Democratic and if there weren’t so many other close races, I think the RGA might look at New York more seriously,” Brown said. “But I think they’ve got bigger fish to fry and many more pressing concerns about Republican-held seats losing, which would be much much more serious.”

According to The Cook Political Report, five Republican-held and three Democrat-held gubernatorial seats are toss-ups in this year’s election, and New York is in the “Solid D” column.

A Siena College poll out Tuesday showed Cuomo with his lowest favorability rating as governor, but also showed him ahead of Molinaro in a head-to-head 57-31 percent, though many voters don’t know Molinaro yet and Republicans are disputing the polling methodology.

Brown said that even if Christie had not publicly shot down the Astorino campaign in 2014, there was little chance of the RGA investing in that race. “I think that a competitive race among the Democrats is going to be something that national Republicans will enjoy. But the actual investment of resources is something that is too precious for national organizations to do anything other than place where they need to get wins...there is a question about the nationalization of gubernatorial races in 2018 and whether the national politics related to the president are going to be something that every governor running is going to have to confront. So I think that the nationalization that we’ve seen in other parts of the country is also likely to play out in New York.”

That hasn’t stopped the New York Republican Party from trying to woo the RGA. Next month, the Republican State Committee will honor RGA Chair Bill Haslam, governor of Tennessee, at its annual gala. The RGA is also expected to meet in New York around the same time.

DeFrancisco has already made his case before the RGA at a meeting in February. Michael Lawler, a spokesperson for DeFrancisco’s campaign, said in an email, “I think the Republican Governors Association is definitely interested in the race. Fortunately, they are in a position of defending a majority of seats, and so like with any race, they will evaluate it on the merits, but I would expect they would look to be more helpful than they were four years ago, not just financially, but publicly offering support.”

Molinaro campaign spokesperson Katherine Delgado said, “We remain in regular contact with the RGA and other outside groups that are encouraged by Marc's candidacy.”

Cox predicted of Molinaro, “I can see him getting together with them and really impressing the RGA people.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Reforming Special Elections & More in Albany

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Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits

April 17, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Reforming Special Elections & More in Albany

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Susan Lerner of Common Cause/NY is one of the leading government reform advocates and activists in New York. With a recently-passed state budget largely missing any ethics, campaign finance or voting reforms, and a slate of special elections scheduled for next week, Lerner joined the podcast to discuss what is broken and how it should be fixed.

Lerner explains that the political parties have a "stranglehold" on elections in New York, that the state Legislature is clearly not doing the will of the people on key issues like voting and bail reform, and that state government is being "unresponsive" to the plague of corruption.

Lerner also weighs in on issues in New York City around the recently-called charter revision commissions, one by the mayor and one by the City Council, calling it "absurd" that there will be two and expressing hope for a merger. Beyond criticism, though, Lerner provides many thoughts on what should be happening in New York. 

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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